The Fantastical experiment is over

Like everyone else in the known universe, I installed the new Fantastical for iOS on my iPhone a couple of days ago. This morning I deleted it.

I was skeptical of Fantastical’s value on the iPhone right from the start. Its main claim to fame on the Mac is its natural language interface for entering events.1 But if you have an iPhone 4S or 5, you already have a natural language interface in Siri, and in my experience Siri is pretty good at interpreting calendar entries.

Still, everyone was raving about Fantastical, and it cost only $2, so I bit. To make sure I gave it a good workout, I installed it on my first page of apps and exiled the builtin Calendar app to one of the nether pages.

Fantastical gives a good first impression. It has a nice look, and the scrolling set of days at the top works well. I didn’t notice any problems in how it imported my existing calendar data.

Fantastical for iOS

Source: Flexibits.

It was when I opened the Notifications settings to turn off notifications for Calendar and turn them on for Fantastical, that the bloom came off the rose. I scrolled up and down the list of apps,2 looking for Fantastical. It wasn’t there. I thought this was kind of stupid, but I kept the notifications on for Calendar; maybe it’d work out OK in practice.

Justin Blanton soon noticed the same thing and wasn’t as reticent.

No Notification Center support for Fantastical?
Justin Blanton (@jblanton) Thu Nov 29 2012 12:10 PM CST
@jblanton That’s what I saw, too. You have to keep notifications turned on for the built-in calendar. Wish the reviews had mentioned that.
Dr. Drang (@drdrang) Thu Nov 29 2012 12:14 PM CST
@drdrang Kind of the last thing I’d expect to be missing. Bleh.
Justin Blanton (@jblanton) Thu Nov 29 2012 12:35 PM CST

Why does it matter which app I receive notifications in? Because most of my alerts are for meetings and phone calls that have the information I need in the notes or location fields of the event. When I get an alert, I usually tap the notification to bring up the event and read that information. The way things are now, tapping the notification launches Calendar. And after two days of working this way, I’ve learned that I spend a hell of a lot more time in the app associated with notifications than in the one that does the scheduling in the first place. Even though I “replaced” the builtin Calendar with Fantastical, I still found myself using Calendar more often. Apparently, I create most of my calendar entries on my Mac.

So it’s goodbye to Fantastical on my iPhone. I’ll give you another chance if you add notification support.

And of course, I’m still in love with Fantastical for the Mac (which is 50% off right now). The only time I need to open iCal anymore is when someone sends me a .vcs invitation. If only it were as complete a replacement on the iPhone.

  1. Its other big advantage over iCal/Calendar on the Mac is in its appearance, but that goes without saying, doesn’t it? 

  2. By the way, is there any good reason the list of apps isn’t alphabetical? 

9 Responses to “The Fantastical experiment is over”

  1. Travis says:

    Wouldn’t count on notifications soon based on the FAQ. Looks like an Apple problem, not a flexibits problem. (question #3)

    Personally I’m not having a problem using Fantastical for the adding/viewing-events-at-a-glance and sharing the heavy lifting with the built-in calendar. But I’m probably weird that way.

    (Also, I’m stuck on an iPhone 4 with no voice dictation, so natural language input is a big boon for me)

  2. Dr. Drang says:

    I’d probably feel better about Fantastical if it were a few months ago and I was still using a 4.

    I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of iOS programming, but I was using Agenda for a while, and I’d swear it put up alerts. In fact, I remember getting two alerts for each event because I’d forgotten to turn off notifications for Calendar.

  3. Joe Sap says:

    Apps are listed in Notifications settings in the order in which you choose to sort them, assuming you have them sorted manually.

  4. Dr. Drang says:

    I thought the Sort Apps setting was for how the apps appear when you pull down from the top, not how they appear in the Settings app itself. Am I wrong about that? I’ve always had it set to By Time.

    There is an Edit button in the Notification Settings that allows the apps to be sorted there. I’ve assumed that that sets the order in which they appear when you pull down from the top. But what determines the order of the apps if you’ve never bothered to sort them? It isn’t the order in which they were added to my phone.

  5. Jan Marcel says:

    Hi, Dr.! Long time no see!

    Since the introduction of the Notification Settings in iOS 5, I’ve accumulated a great deal of frustration with it. Based on my experience and some tests, I’m almost sure the initial order in which it sorts apps is almost random, unpredictable at best.

    To add insult to injury, iOS seems to suffer from a very serious memory problem when it comes to remembering any change you make to this crazy initial ordering. Just search for “notifications sorting” on Apple forums and you’ll find many complaints.

    With the help of other frustrated users, I came to a workaround to make a manual reordering stick, and it couldn’t be a more Microsofty “solution”: you have to hard reset your iOS device immediately after making the desired changes. Then, and only then, your preferences will be saved and respected.

    When iOS 6 came out, I had high hopes they would have gotten rid of such an embarrassing bug, but I was wrong. Even after restoring my iPhone to the new iOS version and setting it up from scratch, not from a previous backup, the bug manifested itself as unmistakably as before. Since I learned to love the the “By Time” sorting method, I haven’t bothered to check whether iOS 6.0.1 fixed it, but I wouldn’t hold my breath over it.

    Sorry for venting from frustration at your blog, doc.

  6. Wes Campaigne says:

    The Edit button lets you set the sorting for both the settings app and (if set to manual) Notification Centre. I’ve never had any particular problem with it — at a glance, the order in there seems to still be what I set it to ages and ages ago.

    Also, for me, the order for items that I’ve not bothered to sort certainly looks like the order they were added to the phone (or, rather, the order in which they first requested permission to be added to Notifications) — new apps are enqueued at the bottom of the list.

    At least, that’s the case for the “In Notification Center” list; the “Not In …” list does look a bit more random. If I had to guess, I’d say that:

    • apps where you deny their initial “Allow Notifications” request get queued to the bottom of the list, while
    • apps that were “In” but you later turned notifications off for are queued at the top of the “Not In” list, in the order in which they had notifications turned off.

    A confounding factor is that not all apps have always had notifications support, and the orderings are based on when the app first asked for permission. So an app that you’ve had for ages but just added notifications support in a recent update will appear near the end of the list, despite the app itself not being new to your phone.

  7. Dave says:

    I prefer Fantastical for two reasons. One, it’s far better looking. This probably isn’t a problem on an iPhone 5, but on a 4 the iCal monthly view is almost unusable because the calendar takes over most of the screen (and is ugly as hell). I love the monthly view on Fantastical because I can actually see all my appts (4 or 5 compared to 2). Second, I don’t like using Siri except when alone, and writing ‘lunch next tuesday at 2pm’ is much easier than entering anything in iCal.

    Yes, alerts open up iCal. But for now I don’t mind seeing iCal if I click on an alert. And iCal stays safely away from my first screen.

  8. Thomas Müller says:


    There are two ways to deliver notifications: push them to the device from your server or schedule them locally.

    For the first you’d have to set up all your calendar accounts in the app, they would store that on their server, and then they’d check for updates and push notifications to your device. A lot off hassle, security issues and probably doesn’t work with iCloud (not sure if there is an API to access those calendars)

    If you do local notifications (which some apps do) it gets unreliable. If an event gets modified on a different device or iCloud, the app won’t know about that change until you next run it and can’t schedule a notification, so you won’t get an alarm (or not at the right time). You have to run the app often so it can update the scheduled notifications. It might also use up the allowed notifications (I think 64 per app or so) in a few days if you have lots of events with lots of alarms. If you don’t run the app in that time you will just stop receiving alarms after that.

    There’s no good solution for 3rd-party calendar apps. The best solution IMO would be for Apple to add a setting for choosing the default calendar app. The system-generated alerts could than launch that app instead of the built-in calendar.

  9. mhoutman says:

    @drdrang: interesting observation Agenda Calendar showing notifications. As I had the same experience (and also left AC despite the useful link with Due App) I re-installed some other calendar apps I own. Also Calvetica+ and Week Calendar are visible in the Notification Center…